I open my Instagram app and just out of curiosity start to scroll through the explore part of the app. A blanket dog burrito, a pup trying to escape its cage, some more shelter dogs, heart shaped crystals, people doing yoga, some greenery...oh right, I'm on the »for you« bit of the explore tab. As soon as I start scrolling through the Fashion portion of it, images of pretty 'too perfect' people posing seemingly nonshalant start poping up. More than 95% of everyone is skinny, beautiful and, at least on the outside, too cool (for school).
And while it does sometimes get me down and feelings of inadequacy arise, I normally don't linger on it and try to spend too much time thinking about it. Some days I succeed, some days I fail, but I know the image that is perpetuated via these posts with perfect people and perfect figures can be highly damaging, especially to young people. It's also probably one of the reasons why eating disorders have been on the rise lately. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, up to 70 million people (both male and female) suffer from eating disorders.
Eating disorders are a range of conditions expressed through abnormal or disturbed eating habits and usually stem from an obsession with food, body weight or body shape. Some of the most common eating disorders are binge eating (characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, followed by feeling of a loss of control during the binge, experiencing shame or guilt afterwards), anorexia nervosa (connected to distorted body image, leading individual to monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods and severely restrict their calories), bulimia nervosa (characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating) and orthorexia (an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating).
While, personally, I was lucky and never had to deal with an eating disorder, a really close friend of mine has and she was happy to share her journey with me in hopes that it might shed a light on these important disorders that---just like any other illnesses---need to be treated as well as understood.
Mateja Škraba, owner of Frachella and fashion editor at Primpy is gorgeous, healthy, radiant and there's absolutely no sense of lack of self esteem or self worth. Had you not known her story, you'd probably never guess she ever had issues with body image or eating disorders. Her story started when she started working as a model. » I was only 13 and didn’t really understand the whole world of fashion. I was quite skinny but as I got older my body changed; my hips got wider and I gained a bit of weight, but overall I was still thin. Not thin enough for the fashion industry unfortunately or at least that’s what my agent said. I heard ‘you are too fat’ so many times I think it just kind of sank in my mind and destroyed my body image. And so it slowly started: counting calories, eliminating certain food (carbohydrates, sugar), weighing 2 times a day, eliminating all food, overeating… It just sucks you in.”
Sometimes there's a certain event that sparks the eating disorder but sometimes there's no specific defining moment. Mateja falls into the second category. »I don’t remember a certain event. I think it was the timing…after starving and eliminating food period I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I got hungry so I overeat. After that, the guilt and the panic kicked in. The panic that I will gain weight over one meal…so I threw up.”
In the beginning, she didn't have a problem hiding her eating disorder, until one day, luckily, her mom went into the bathroom after she forgot to flush the toilet. Her mom quickly put the pieces together and confronted her. Fortunately, Mateja admited everything and wanted to get better so together they came up with a plan for her to start seeing a psycologist. »We talked a lot about it and I also went to see a psychologist. I really wanted to get better and to stop but I don’t think I would have stopped if she wouldn’t have found out. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do but at the same time, it didn’t feel like something really bad. I thought I had it under control and I will stop when the time will be right. Looking back, I think it would only get worse,” says Mateja.
When asked about what was worse, the eating disorder or the healing, her answer is a resounding both. “During the eating disorder, I was always worried about how will I stop, when will I stop, will somebody find out? For a young girl that’s quite hard to handle. And I was all alone in it. At that time, we didn’t have any social media, nobody talked about it, not even us girls with each other. It was f*cked up. The healing process was hell too, psychologically speaking. You have to eat five small meals a day. 5 meals a day?! Imagine going from starving and not eating to that amount of food. And you have to keep it in your body. It was hard to deal with it. You crave all that junk food but you know you can’t have it (*Don’t get me wrong. You can have all the junk food you want. But the normal amount. In my head, I was craving an unreasonable amount of it and it was the amount that I couldn’t have.) It’s like a war zone in your mind. But I slowly learned how to handle it and I started to understand everything. Honestly though, I think the healing actually never stops.”
But one thing that Mateja can't stress enough is the importance of a support system and people supporting you on the journey. When asked about her bigger supporters, she expains her mom was the first one. “She faced me with everything and encouraged me to get help,” says Mateja. “The most important thing I think it was that she never judged me, she just tried to understand the whole situation. The second supporter was my psychologist. He was tough and scary, but I liked him. Through our conversations, I learned a lot about myself and that’s what it got me to my third supporter…myself. You know, it’s only you at the end. Nobody can help you if you are not all in. Honestly all in. And I was. I was the one who wanted and began to understand. I was the one who chose not to do it anymore. I was the one who said ‘’Enough!’’ to my agent and cut the contract.”
But what can we do if we sense that someone close to us might have an eating disorder? “One thing is for sure…don’t ignore it! Try to observe their eating habits, start small talk about how they see themselves, how they feel about their body image. If that somebody is close to you, you for sure know what their look at the body/weight is and if they struggle with it that might already be the first red flag. Sudden weight loss might not be that concerning, but not stop losing it for sure is. Still thinking he/she is fat after losing the weight. Going to the bathroom after every meal, avoiding meals or not eating for longer periods and overeating on other days.”
And lastly, can we finally stop pretending skinny equals healthy and happy? There is absolutely no correlation between those things and if our goal is to continually strive for some kind of outwards approval, we condemn ourselves on a lifetime of disappointment---and quite possibly an eating disorder. Let's keep shining no matter what our scales or clothing sizes say, eh?
*If you think that you might be struggling with an eating disorder and would like to reach out, you can find some information as well as a contact number here.. Some other good resources: your parents, partners or your friends. <3